May 10, 2021

Worst Cyberattack in U.S. History Signals Trouble

The pipeline responsible for 45% of the East Coast’s fuel was shut down following a ransomware attack.

Over the weekend, the U.S. was hit with its worst cyberattack to date, as the nation’s largest fuel pipeline company, Colonial Pipeline, was forced to shut down a 5,500-mile stretch of pipeline that supplies some 45% of fuel consumed on the East Coast. The Georgia-based company shut down the pipeline after its business-side computer system was compromised by a ransomware attack. “We proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems,” Colonial explained. This is hugely consequential.

There are a couple of takeaways — first about our infrastructure, and second regarding who’s responsible.

Fuel shortages causing a spike in prices is a real possibility if the pipeline is not brought back online within the next few days. The company stated on Sunday that it “will bring our full system back online only when we believe it is safe to do so, and in full compliance with the approval of all federal regulations.”

Energy researcher Amy Myers Jaffe observed, “This was not a minor target. Colonial Pipeline is ultimately the jugular of the U.S. pipeline system. It’s the most significant, successful attack on energy infrastructure we know of in the United States. We’re lucky if there are no consequences, but it’s a definite alarm bell.”

Senator Ben Sasses (R-NE) responded by hitting Democrats for their terminology games with expanding what constitutes actual infrastructure and therefore hanging up a true infrastructure bill. “There’s obviously much still to learn about how this attack happened,” Sasse said, “but we can be sure of two things: This is a play that will be run again, and we’re not adequately prepared. If Congress is serious about an infrastructure package, at front and center should be the hardening of these critical sectors — rather than progressive wishlists masquerading as infrastructure.”

And given Joe Biden’s actions in revoking the Keystone XL pipeline permit as part of his Green New Deal assault on American energy production, combined with his $2 trillion “infrastructure” plan that’s light on actual infrastructure, it’s evident that pipelines are infrastructure that Biden’s just not interested in getting behind.

Finally, the most likely culprit for the cyberattack has been identified as the criminal cyber gang known as “DarkSide” — a group that likens itself to Robin Hood and is known for targeting Western businesses while avoiding attacking hospitals, schools, and governments. Tellingly, though, it has the Kremlin written all over it. As Andrew Rubin, CEO of cybersecurity company Illumio, contends, “Whether they work for the state or not is increasingly irrelevant, given Russia’s obvious policy of harboring and tolerating cybercrime.” Vladimir Putin certainly wasn’t keen on Donald Trump’s work to make America energy independent or his challenge to Russian dominance in natural gas production. It’s no surprise to see Putin’s organized crime cutouts attack the U.S. in such a way.

So, how will Biden respond?

Update 5/20: Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount confirmed that his company paid a $4.4 million ransom because the company was uncertain of the extent of the attack or how long it would take to recover.

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